We’re enjoying an “ice day,” staying home because the sidewalks of New York are coated with freezing rain. But I didn’t have to completely miss my big event of the day, the official opening of the International Year of Forests, 2011. I found the live webcast on the United Nations web page; how cool is that? And one of the sisters in my community sent me a perfect quote for the day, one of my favorites from John Muir: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, (s)he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

That quote was perfect for a morning spent thinking about forests and how they are connected to everything else. Loss of forests means loss of topsoil, loss of livelihood, loss of clean water, loss of fuel, loss of food (Haiti is a good/bad example of that). And loss of who knows what undiscovered potential medicines (about 1/2 of our medicines come from plants, many of them from forests). Forests absorb greenhouse gases, provide oxygen, and create rainfall; the Amazon rainforest alone has effects on climate in areas far from South America.

Today’s celebration involved talks and film clips from award-winning films on forests, but as the camera panned the huge UN Assembly Hall, you could see the delegates lounging back, reading, laughing, yawning, talking in small groups…suddenly they all sat up and looked alert when a group of children came in, carrying cardboard cutouts of trees. Their little spokesperson asked the adults to “stop talking so much and DO SOMETHING,” as he passionately described the threats to the environment and what they, the children, were doing about it. He asked why adults are so unconcerned, and speculated that it was perhaps because our future is only 20-30 years, but reminded us their future may last through 2100…and they are the ones who will see most consequences of climate change and other environmental damage. He reminded us that there are more children in the world than anyone else, and called on the children of the world to get involved in influencing the adults, saying, “maybe one mosquito can’t do anything against a rhino, but 1,000 mosquitos can make even a rhino change direction!” He got a standing ovation.

The very last film clip showed a “grove” of “trees” with tall cardboard roll trunks and toilet paper foliage, standing in a toilet. The text said: 95% of all toilet paper used in the United States is made of 100% virgin wood pulp, some of it from 200 year old forests. Then, to the sound of chainsaws, the toilet flushed, carrying the grove of trees with it.

Let’s listen to the children…and happy Year of the Forest!